Darwin_Crescent_2.jpg Darwin Crescent sign (2019). Rachel Sonius. Word on the street image collection.

Darwin Crescent in Spotswood is named for the famous English naturalist Charles Darwin. Not that he ever visited the city - he did spend Christmas of 1835 in the Bay of Islands but said New Zealand was “not a pleasant place”.

While Darwin is the man celebrated, the street was actually named after Charles Darwin Road in the city of Plymouth, England. As with so many other streets in New Plymouth, city planners were inspired by the strong connection early settlers had to the southwest counties.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) also had links to that part of England. He spent two months in Plymouth in 1831 waiting for the weather to improve so that his ship, the HMS Beagle could begin its legendary five-year scientific expedition. It was during this voyage that his ideas on evolution were formed. Excavations in the prehistoric caves of Kents Cavern, near Torquay, uncovered evidence backing his theories.

Darwin’s concepts were widely publicised throughout the British Empire. His earliest mention in a Taranaki newspaper occurred in August 1862 and references to his work appeared regularly after that, occasionally poking fun at the thought that humans could have descended from primates, but also seriously debating his ideas.

Darwin corresponded with government scientist Sir James Hector, amongst others, and as a result his evolutionary theory was promoted and accepted more easily here than in many countries. By 1920, the Taranaki Herald described evolution as “a fact which is accepted by all people of an average education”.

The surname Darwin comes from the Old English Deorwine, meaning "dear friend". Other things named after the great naturalist include the Australian city, an asteroid and over 250 different species of plants, animals and insects. He also appeared on the English ten pound note until 2017, in part because his luxuriant beard was reportedly very difficult to forge.

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

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